We’ve all faced situations where the jpeg file of an image we’ve created just seems flat and lifeless, even though we may like the original composition. When this happens it can be a very disappointing experience. I’ve been shooting in RAW + jpeg fine for many years as I always like to see how my camera has captured a jpeg file. This helps me determine a game plan when using the RAW version of the file. This article features an image from a recent trip to New Zealand and illustrates how increasing landscape image impact can be quick and simple.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge
Let’s take a look at the out-of-camera jpeg….
To begin…here are some details on how the original image was captured….
I shot hand-held (as is always my preference) and used single point AF when capturing this image with a Nikon 1 J5 and a 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 zoom lens. I placed the AF point on the green grass on the left hand side of the image. I knew that f/5.6 would provide an acceptable depth-of-field since I was shooting at the widest end of the zoom, i.e. 10mm, and I was positioned about 6 feet (~2 meters) away. I shot in Aperture priority and since there was a breeze causing the grass to move, I adjusted my ISO up to ISO-400 to yield a fast enough shutter speed to ‘freeze’ the grass motion. The sun was at my back.
Overall the jpeg looks flat and lifeless and it would be pretty simple to discard it. It is important when examining a jpeg to remember, and visualize, how much more the photograph will yield when working with the RAW version of it.
There are a few important things that examining the jpeg reveals…
1) The sky details look ‘thin’ but are not washed out indicating that there should be lots of detail in the RAW file with which to work to liven up the sky. There are also some hints of cloud details that could be accentuated to add some drama to the image. This told me that I would have to really work with the level of highlights in the photograph and likely take them down significantly in post. It also indicated that using a polarizing adjustment would add impact.
2) There is good detail in the grass on the left hand side even though it looks pretty dark. There were also good details in the beach grass. This indicated that adjusting shadows and blacks in post would be needed to help to make the grass portions of the image pop a lot more.
3) Another important thing the jpeg revealed are the hints of browns and rust colours in the beach plants on the right hand side of the frame. This immediately indicated to me that adjusting the curve for this image could really help take this image to another level. Enhancing dark and light colours through a curve adjustment looked like a good course of action.
So, let’s look at the same photograph, but now the finished image created through processing the RAW file.
And, so you don’t have to toggle back and both, here are the images side by side.
I’m sure you’ll agree that there is a significant difference and that the image created from the RAW file has much more drama and impact.
Transforming this image was actually very quick and simple to do, and overall took about 3 minutes including computer processing time.
As regular readers will know I use a combination of DxO OpticsPro 11, CS6 and Nik Suite for my processing. Many folks have scratched their heads wondering why I use this particular approach as it is rather odd so I’ve give you a quick summary of the steps I did to process this image.
- I used the standard OpticsPro 11 automatic adjustments in terms of lens corrections etc. The only two additional things I did was reduce highlights by -20 and apply PRIME noise reduction. I exported a DNG file into CS6. I love the ease and simplicity of using OpticsPro 11 and how my file comes out after this first stage.
- I went into the Curve function in CS6 and applied the ‘Find dark and light colors’ adjustment. This really made the browns and rust colours pop out in the image.
- In CS6 I took highlights down to -100. This ‘double whammy’ on highlights in both OpticsPro 11 and CS6 is often required to get highlights back to where I want them when using Nikon 1 files.
- In CS6 I added some Contrast (+10) and Clarity (+15) to help bring out details in the grass and sky.
- In CS6 I reduced Black until I got the ‘thickness’ I wanted in the beach grass on the right and in the green grass on the right, then lightened up the image by adjusting the Shadows.
- I then went into Nik Suite and used the Polarizing function in Color Efex Pro4 to give the sky a darker and richer look. When working with landscape images I love this function in Nik.
In summary, regardless of the software program(s) you use, increasing landscape image impact can be fairly quick and easy. When working with files that appear flat and lifeless, remember to work hard on the highlights to bring them out better, using the black and shadow slides in combination can help make an image pop, try out one of the curve options in your program to enhance an important aspect of your image, and if your software has a polarizing function use it to make the sky snap. I like to examine my jpegs in advance of working with RAW files to help me determine my game plan for an image before starting any adjustments. I find this saves me a lot of time in post.
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